Last year the Houston Astros lost 106 games, the largest number in the 50 year history of the franchise. Since 2006, the year after the Astros won their one and only National League pennant the club has a .460 winning percentage (447-524). It has been a truly awful period for Astros fans. In my opinion, the trigger signaling the rough tumble from the lofty heights of the 2005 World Series was actually squeezed a year earlier. June 24th, 2004 to be exact.
The Astros clubs of the mid-2000's were very competitive under the veteran leadership and production of Craig Biggio & Jeff Bagwell. By the middle of the 2004 season, boosted by the juiced pitching of Roger Clemens, the club thought it had a chance for a World Series and made a deadline deal bringing Royals outfielder Carlos Beltran to Houston for a catching prospect named John Buck. Beltran played well for the remaining 90 games, the Astros made the playoffs via the wild-card but lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS.
Beltran bolted when he signed a big free agent contract with Mets. John Buck, the club's top prospect, after seven seasons of Astros minor league development was gone in exchange for 90 games of Carlos Beltran. He went on to be a solid major league catcher for the Royals, Blue Jays (where he made the 2010 All Star team), and is currently with the Marlins.
The trading of John Buck set the tone for the final years of the Drayton McLean era. From that point until he sold the team, the Astros no longer cared about the long term development of the franchise. They went from having the strongest minor league system in baseball to the worst of the worst. They stopped signing draft picks and any sense of player development was basically lost. Instead the fans were treated to the likes of Jason Jennings, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee, Kaz Matsui, and Geoff Blum. While home-grown players like Brad Lidge, Willy Taveras, Morgan Ensberg, Chris Burke, Chad Qualls, Jason Lane, and Luke Scott were sent packing for short term or failed attempts to fill seats.
Quality minor league prospects like D.J. Houlton, Tim Redding, Ben Zobrist, Brooks Conrad, and Jason Hirsh were shed for basically nothing. Replaced in the system by roster filling vets like JR House, Joe McEwing, Cody Ransom, Matt Kata, Reggie Abercrombie, and Travis Driskill.
It all started with John Buck.